A James Joyce Odyssey

​The train ride from downtown Dublin out to the round tower James Joyce stayed in before leaving Ireland for good, is somewhat of an odyssey. The train rolls through patches of green, village rowhomes, and several industrial outposts before arriving alongside the ocean. 

Out the window I watch as fair maidens walk on the blue shimmer of the ocean like sacred saints performing miracles atop low tide sandbars collecting shells to braid into their bangs. These sirens, as it were, wave from the magical waters beckoning for us to join them.

The sun high and hot. This heat baking the tan rocks as they crash down onto broken waves.

There are castles and church steeples on the horizon. A multi-colored ripple of grafitti painted on stone walls as ancient runes casting a diverse range of spells. The ocean manic in its glittering sheen, spitting a cyclonic ozone into the air. Tiny rainbows catching the mist.

Eventually the train lands in a quiet sleepy village still in Dublin county, overwhelmed with city folk and tourists seeking a break from the heat. At this point, Ulysses’  Odyssey takes a turn towards Don Quixote’s dual-realism. 

No giants with arms swinging like windmills, but as I pass through crowds of school children climbing rocks to the sea, my ears hear the chatter of young seagulls chasing schools of fish back into the harbor. The tower stands at the top of a hill like a large castle. Once a military outpost to keep a lookout for an invasion from Napoleon, and one hundred years later the home of King Joyce, himself. Then not too long later the launching pad for the fictional quest of Stephen Daedelus.

Howth peninsula sits across the way. This gigantic arm of earth reaching out to take hold of the rippling sun-filled reflection of the sky. Hundreds of mermaids and mermen swim in between coves coveting each other’s fins to stay afloat. The wind howls and whispers, the sour stink of a one-legged pirate’s yarn spinning an epic voyage around the continent.

This is the last place James Joyce lived before he became an expat from Ireland. It’s a wonder he ever wanted to leave, I think. 

I think this until I walk into the museum lobby and the clerk at the info desk asks me about myself. “I’m a writer,” I tell him thinking this will start a good conversation. But he asks instead in a musical Irish tone, “Oh, do you make a living doing that?” I hear Joyce laughing in Switzerland. Oh well, not much has changed. I have a look around the old place. There’s art from peers and fans on the walls. There’s two different death masks. There’s Joyce’s cane and his favorite vest. All that’s missing is his thick-rimmed eyeglasses. 

Upstairs the bedroom is still barely liveable. A cave with arrow slits for light. But the roof has a view of the city. I could see waking and meditating up there. Doing a daily sun salutation. What’s needed in a bedroom when you have a view of the world? Joyce was here for only 6 days before getting kicked out in some nightmarish fashion that the museum boasts about. It’s too bad he didn’t get a few years. But then maybe the Irish wouldn’t know what they had missed in letting him leave. 

Soon the museum is overwhelmed with bees and locusts. I fight my way out down the narrow stairs pushing past the tour guides. At the bottom, I sign my name on the guest list, but more for that nosey welcomer. 

I return to Dublin and perform at a gig with singing poets who speak more with their ears. Each word a pun or a rhyme off the last one. These folks take real pride in their wit. In the sounds of words rather than their meaning. One man has the greatest punchline: “I told my wife I’m at a poetry reading…the trouble is that I really am.”

A part of me can’t wait till the next time I return to Ireland. I can see it now as a place that would work out for me. I could tour the whole countryside, much like I’ve done the northeast, hopping through small towns and scattering across the cities. The rest of me can’t wait to get back home. Though, at this point, home is so many places, I feel lost for a time that I’ll finally settle and continue writing the novel of all of these adventures.

Every 4 years, I have these cycles of death and rebirth. I’ve done everything in the last 4 years to free myself from this cycle. Usually these deaths manifest in the form of tumultuous break ups, but I, a single man, imagine myself free. In Ireland, I realize there is no escape. A great death of self still awaits. 

Two days back into Dublin, I had a breakthrough. I may not be able to escape death, but I can choose its manifestation. I muse on the full moon: There is no greater death than writing a novel. I think it’s time I write one that I actually finish. Let the blarney carry me through.

A James Joyce Odyssey

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